Interview with Clive Nichols, Britain’s Best Garden Photographer

by Alice White Walker
rows of lavender rolling down a sloping hill

Named “Britain’s Best Garden Photographer” isn’t an honor bestowed on just any photographer. With over 30 years of experience and a colossal 90,000 photos in his online library, Clive Nichols is the name to know when it comes to garden photography. A past contributor to My French Country Home Magazine, we grabbed him for a few quick questions on his illustrious and accomplished career.

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Could you tell us a little bit about your background? Where did you grow up and what was your introduction to photography?

When I was young, our family moved around a lot because of my father’s job, which meant I got to see a varied array of landscapes. Eventually, I went to Reading University to study Human Geography. It was here that my love for photography really started, and I began to travel abroad during the holidays and found I enjoyed taking pictures during my trips.

Post university, I worked as a chef in an Italian restaurant in Reading, but — as is usually the way — the heart came a calling. I began to investigate a career in photography, and what started as travel photography developed to include gardens and flowers.

a smiling man in a light blue shirt

What attracted you to this domain? Did you have any influences, in or outside your family?

I have always loved nature — something that came from my dad — and I wanted to shoot outdoors, so flowers and gardens became a natural subject for me. When I started out in the 1980s, the standard of photography in this genre was very poor, to be honest.

Are there any areas in France you love to shoot? Could you name some of your favorite French gardens?

I love the Loire and the Dordogne Valleys, but Provence is my favorite. The light there is just magical and the gardens are exceptional.

Some of my favorite French gardens are La Carmejane, Château Plaisir, Vaux-le-Vicomte, Marqueysaac in the Dordogne, Château Rivau in the Loire, the gardens at Versailles and any designed or worked on by the wonderful Dominique Lafourcade or Marc Nucera… there are almost too many to count!

a wall with foliage and a bright blue pool beneathLa Carmenjane in Ménerbes, Provence

Whose work — past or present — pushes you to up your game?

I love the work of American landscape photographers like Ansel Adams, Tom Till, etc. They’ve always inspired me to go further in my craft.

You have had over 30 years of experience as a garden and flower photographer. Are there any particular “pinch-yourself” moments you look back on?

Yes, getting free range to photograph Prince Charles’s garden at Birkhall in Scotland with no one else around. Such an incredible privilege… one that I’m very aware does not get handed to everyone.

What time do you have to get out of bed to shoot those incredible morning shots?

It depends on how far I have to drive! In extreme cases, summer shoots mean I will have to get out of bed at 2:00 a.m and drive 100 miles to a garden for the perfect dawn light.

an infinity pool with sculpture of a boy at the right end, skyline and mountains on the horizonLa Jeg, Provence 

If the weather turns, do you still try to shoot? What other elements need to be “just-so” to get your photographs?   

I am very, very fussy! If the weather isn’t good, I tend not to shoot — unless it’s a commission and I have to try and get something in the bag.

The most surprising shot of a garden you’ve ever taken?

Gosh, difficult question! A photo of a giant horse head in bronze by the artist, Nic Fiddian-Green, at the Malverleys estate in Hampshire springs to mind. The horse looks like it’s “kissing” the ground, and with the sunset light, it’s a very memorable shot.

a bronze statue in a garden at sunset

Nic Fiddian-Green’s horse head at Malverleys

You have an award-winning portfolio of traditional English garden design. Do you prefer this style, or do you enjoy the Mediterranean style just as much?

I love both styles. Sadly, this year with the pandemic has meant that I have not been able to travel to the Mediterranean, which is unusual for me. The light is generally better and more reliable there. In England, you have to wait and wait for perfect conditions to come!

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